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Correction to This Article
Photo captions with the article incorrectly described Talca as one of the coastal towns that were damaged both by the recent earthquake and by the ocean waves that followed. Talca is located inland; it suffered earthquake damage but not tsunami damage. The article also referred to the tsunami as a seaquake, based on Chileans' use of the Spanish word "maremoto" to refer to the waves that follow an earthquake. Spanish-English dictionaries give both "seaquake" and "tsunami" as definitions of the word, but "seaquake" in English generally refers to an earthquake that is centered offshore, as the Chilean one was, and not to the resulting tsunami.

Chile's coastal towns face double whammy of damage from earthquake and seaquake

Weeks after the Feb. 27 earthquake hit Chile, a blackout affected millions of residents Sunday. The country is trying to recover from the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked the country last month and caused a tsunami that damaged the country's coastal region and put other countries throughout the Pacific on alert. Strong aftershocks hit the country March 5 and again March 11.
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DICHATO, CHILE -- When one of history's biggest earthquakes hit, Francisco Larenas was shaken awake and then promptly went back to sleep. He wouldn't sleep through what came next.

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Waves -- fast-moving, ferocious and triggered by the quake -- swept in and took out practically everything that stood in their way in this once-picturesque beach town. The seaside restaurants were left a shambles. The cottages for vacationers were lifted off their foundations and turned into splinters. The town's colorful fishing boats, heavy and made of pine, were carried hundreds of yards inland.

"They were 10 meters high, and they were wide, about 25 to 40 meters wide," Larenas, 32, said of the waves. "We were on the second floor, asleep. I was thrown on the floor, my wife, too. We could not get out."

The quake that struck Chile on Saturday did cause extensive damage -- downed bridges, buckled highways and the collapse of several buildings in cities such as Concepcion, Chile's second-largest. As with practically all the wood-plank homes here, Larenas's shook like a dollhouse when the 8.8-magnitude quake struck.

But as rescue crews and the military began their first broad response to towns cut off by fallen phone lines and twisted roads, it became clear Tuesday that the sea and its waves had caused some of the most harrowing scenes.

Larenas described how his house seemed to tear apart at the seams as cold water swamped him and his family. "We just hugged each other," he said. "We lost it all."

Everyone in his family survived, but many others did not. Authorities said hundreds of people are feared to have drowned. All told, the death toll in the quake stands at 795, with hundreds of thousands left homeless.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Santiago on Tuesdsay bearing satellite phones and the promise of extensive additional assistance. The United States, she said, is committed to offering "not only solidarity but specific supplies that are needed to help you recover from the earthquake."

Victor Tapia, a volunteer firefighter here, said he did not expect any happy tales of villagers in the coming days -- no one dug out from under the rubble and muck. He also said it is too early to determine how many had died.

"It is hard to get an exact figure because there are many people who weren't from here," he said, explaining that hundreds of people vacation in Dichato at this time of year, Chile's summer.

Unlike Larenas, who rolled over in bed after the quake, several of Dichato's residents said they ran out of their homes after the quake walloped a broad swath of this ribbon-shaped region south of Santiago, the capital. Rocio Gonzalez, 24, said she abandoned her house moments after the quake struck at 3:24 a.m.

"At 3:30, people left their homes for the hills; I went out in pajamas and without my shoes," she said.

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